IOWA CITY — ESPN2 had a football game that had turned into a Saturday snoozer.
How much so? During the fourth quarter of Iowa’s 23-0 victory over Maryland in Kinnick Stadium, sideline reporter Molly McGrath was talking about the iconic pie shakes of the Iowa City institution known as the Hamburg Inn.
On a national broadcast, the voices of the game were talking about dessert. For Iowa’s purposes, though, the game itself was a sweet treat with multiple delicious ingredients.
The offense played Ferentz’s favorite kind of football, with the offensive line and running backs taking command, rushing for 224 yards and owning the ball for over 40 minutes.
The zero on Maryland’s side is all you need to say about Iowa’s defense, but throw in the Terrapins’ paltry 115 yards to accentuate the dominance.
On special teams, Miguel Recinos helped stake the Hawkeyes to a 6-0 lead with two field goals in a hard, constant, tricky wind. Punter Colten Rastetter, as improved a player from last season as Iowa has, averaged 46.5 yards on his two punts and left both inside Maryland’s 15-yard line.
A team win? Totally. The Hawkeyes had two touchdowns. Fittingly, one was on offense, one on defense.
“It was a good feeling,” Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson said about his recovery of a Terrapin fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
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“It feels … good,” wide receiver Brandon Smith said of his sensational 10-yard, one-handed touchdown catch with eight seconds left in the first half.
It all feels good lately, doesn’t it? Three games in three weeks, none decided by less than 17 points. This has been consistently good play, since the season began. Iowa hasn’t laid an egg in seven games. All six wins were by double-digits, and the Hawkeyes played Wisconsin straight-up for 60 minutes, almost.
“I think we did a good job preparing this week,” Ferentz said, “but it’s been 7-for-7. Even the bye week, which is tricky, I guess 8-for-8, right, the bye week would be eight weeks.”
He was talking about having eight good weeks of practice and preparation, eight weeks that gave his team a chance to win all seven games it has played, eight weeks that produced six wins and the kind of year in which “bowl-eligible” was briefly mentioned by Ferentz after Saturday’s win but wasn’t very newsy to everyone else.
This season is bigger than bowl-eligible. This is 6-1 going to Penn State with a chance to leap to high ground.
“Every single week we emphasize getting better and the coaches do a really good job with that,” said Iowa’s Kelly Ivory-Martin, who rushed 24 times for 98 yards. “That’s just a championship-level attitude.
“We can’t be as good as we were the week before. We have to keep improving and do everything we can to play at that championship level.”
For the last few weeks, different Hawkeye players have used that specific word combination. Championship-level. That’s no accident. Coaches are using that term around the team, and maybe a lot. They know they have something really good here that could be on the cusp of something better if the progress continues. And the flexibility.
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Iowa couldn’t be Air Ferentz Saturday. The weather forecast indicated as much earlier in the week. So this team switched seamlessly to its power game while its defense left Maryland’s offense stuck in its own territory for all but two plays.
But as vanilla as the Hawkeyes’ own attack was, there was Smith with a dazzling one-handed catch in the end zone.
“I’m just trying to prove myself, I guess,” said the modest Smith. “I could do those things in practice, I just needed to bring them to the game.”
Nelson is like everyone else on Iowa’s defense in bringing it all the time. But his touchdown was a gift after quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome bumped into a teammate after the snap from the Maryland 10, lost the ball, and inadvertently kicked it into the end zone where Nelson chased it down and fell on it.
“I didn’t believe it,” Nelson said. “I was like ‘Is this really happening? It just seems too easy.’ ”
Easy has nothing to do with this season. Yet, things are starting to seem that way. The Hawkeyes have stacked three one-sided wins in succession. The sweetest treats may be yet to come.
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